This column was inspired by the late, great Madeline Kahn and her role as cabaret singer Lili Von Shtupp in Mel Brooks’ comedy classic “Blazing Saddles.” Lili was tired of men, whereas I am tired of people trying to frighten me about non-existent dangers in my food and in the environment. One surfs the internet and runs into pieces about “Top 10 Most Dangerous Fruits,” or “15 Processed Foods to Avoid,” or “Chemicals that Cause Cancer.” Almost everything is based on bad or non-existent science, but people can write what they want thanks to freedom of speech.
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Explore this issueFebruary/March 2019
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As a resident of California, I am also exposed every day to Proposition 65 warnings. Signs at hardware stores read, “This store sells products that contain chemicals deemed to be carcinogenic under Proposition 65.” The same signs appear in the coffee shops, gas stations, car repair shops, and supermarkets.
Is there an answer? Well, maybe. Websites could be more diligent when it comes to reviewing the “science” that they publish, but that is a stretch.
Our best answer might be federal legislation that makes food labeling and other product claims a federal prerogative. This could eliminate future Proposition 65s and prevent states from enacting labeling laws that would affect the whole country; an example would be GMO labeling. But that is beyond me.
Unfortunately, food faddism and fearmongering are not new. They have been with us here in the U.S. for many years. Perhaps the solution is the one proposed by San Francisco Chronicle columnist Art Hoppe in his April 1989 piece entitled “Safe at Last.” In the column, he tells the story of an overly cautious man named Harold who gave up every food and product that was tested and deemed hazardous to his health. It wasn’t until Harold was reduced to a “safe” diet of organic rutabagas, alfalfa sprouts, and spring water that his wife pointed out that every product that is tested seems to be hazardous—so it stands to reason that all products will turn out to be dangerous as soon as they are tested. Seeing no choice:
He [Harold] dug an organic hole in his backyard, placed therein an organic pine box and climbed inside. “At last,” he said, as he pulled the lid down over him, “I shall be safe.”
(P.S. To read Art’s column in its entirety, go here.)